Monday, October 16, 2006

Possible coup in North Korea?

By Heraclitus

This seems like a huge story. The Australian newspaper is reporting that the Chinese government is openly discussing a possible coup in North Korea after Kim Jong-Il's nuclear test.

THE Chinese are openly debating "regime change" in Pyongyang after last week's nuclear test by their confrontational neighbour...

More than one Chinese academic agreed that China yearned for an uprising similar to the one that swept away the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989 and replaced him with communist reformers and generals. The Chinese made an intense political study of the Romanian revolution and even questioned president Ion Iliescu, who took over, about how it was done and what roles were played by the KGB and by Russia.

Mr Kim, for his part, ordered North Korean leaders to watch videos of the swift and chaotic trial and execution of Ceausescu and his wife, Elena, the vice-prime minister, as a salutary exercise...

Hinting at the options, Chinese online military commentators have exposed plots and purges inside North Korea that were previously unknown or unconfirmed. They have described three attempted coups that ended in bloodshed.

Now, my experience with coups is limited at best. But I can't imagine that openly discussing the possibility is going to make for a more successful coup. Moreoever, the discussion of these three other previous coups (there's more information in the article linked to above) is ambiguous. Was China involved in these coups? If so, their failure seems to argue against China's ability to pull off regime change, even if they decide to try it. And if China has not been involved before, but wants to "sponsor" a coup now, that takes us back to question of whether talking about it is really the best strategy.

has more on China's reaction to the test. One of China's chief problems with North Korea is the steady flow of refugees into China. The sanctions on North Korea would presumably only make this problem worse, while a coup may dispose of it altogether. On the other hand, China appears to be redoubling its efforts to build a giant wall along its border with North Korea, which is perhaps all that they plan to do to stop the refugees. So, although I'm obviously not privy to the plans of the Chinese government, all of this seems to me more like saber rattling, a vocal show of just how displeased they are with Kim Jong-Il, and of how much support he's lost, than a preparation for a coup. But then, I picked the Cardinals to win the NCLS, so what do I know?

In related news, both China and South Korea have announced that they
don't plan on significantly curtailing their business with North Korea, UN sanctions or no (although at this point there seems to be enough confusion about what exactly the sanctions require that this cannot be seen as an outright dismissal of the sanctions).

Incidentally, I think this column by Anne Applebaum, "
Auschwitz Under Our Noses," is still required reading for any discussion of North Korea. Yesterday's Times (London) has more on North Korea's obsession with eugenics and on the generally hellish character of life in that country. They are literally killing babies.

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